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Russian Vocabulary about Russian Literature

Published: April 21, 2021

The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

Structure and Classification

Whether you’re studying in Russia or the US, if you’re learning Russian language, you’re probably also reading classic Russian literature. Here is some useful vocabulary for discussing literature.

Литература can be художественная литература, or документальная, небеллетристическая литература. Both of these types of literature can contain a предисловие, пролог, and эпилог.

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There are many different subtypes of художественная литература: фэнтези, мистика/ужасы, научная фантастика, криминальная литература/детектив, любовные истории, юмористический рассказ, and историческая проза.

There are also lots of different types of literary works: роман, повесть, рассказ, стихотворение, and антология, a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. A format that is not as common in modern fiction is a роман в стихах, such as Pushkin’s Евгений Онегин. Every literary work has герои, including a главный герой and an отрицательный герой.

A typical структура сюжета includes the several parts. First, the экспозиция, представит героев, место и время действия: кто, где, когда. The завязка presents the первое столкновение конфликтующих сторон. Then, the перипетии по восходящей , кульминация, перипетии по нисходящей, and развязка develop the story to its финал, which ties up any lose ends to the story and gives it conclusion. In many литературные произведения, символы are important, and each символ выражает an idea.

Предзнаменование is a литературный приём in which the author drops subtle hints about events or developments that will occur later in the story. A common example is a символ беды, such as a черная кошка, перебежавшая дорогу, карканье ворона, гроза, or внезапно потухшая свеча


Literary Devices

Knowing литературные приёмы that авторы use can help readers анализировать литературу. One of the most common литературные приёмы is a метафора (metaphor), a фигура речи that describes an object by stating that it is in some way the same as another otherwise unrelated object. For example: Мой дом — моя крепость, or весь мир — театр.

Dostoyevsky’s office – from the Dostoyevksy Apartment Memorial Museum in St. Petersburg. Read about an SRAS student who explored it while abroad here.

A метафора is slightly different from a сравнение, which is an уподобление that compares two objects by using a comparative word such as как or чем, or verbs such as напоминает. For example: Мужик глуп, как свинья, а хитёр, как чёрт.

A twist on a метафора or сравнение is персонифика́ция or олицетворение, which is representing a non-human entity as if it were human. For example: Плачёт дождь, ветер поёт песни.

When using метонимия the author refers to an object or concept not by its own name, but by something associated with that thing or concept. For example: Я три тарелки съел – here, food is implied, although the author never actually says “three plates of food.

One type of metonymy is синекдоха, which is a term for a part of something that refers to the whole of it, or vice versa. For example: Единственное число вместо множественного: Всё спит — и человек, и зверь, и птица (Gogol).

Аллегория is a риторический приём in which characters or events represent a different idea or concept. For example: (from the Bible) Иуда олицетворяет ложь и предательство, а Богородица – красоту и непорочность.

A эвфемизм is a generally harmless word or expression used in place of one that might be offensive or unpleasant. For example: более жёсткие методы допроса instead of пытки. The opposite of an эвфемизм is a дисфеми́зм, which, instead of using harmless words, uses phrases that are offensive either about the денотат or to the audience, or both. For example: сдохнуть instead of умереть.

An аллюзия is a reference to a famous historical or literary person or event. These are very common in Russian газетные заголовки. One recent headline read: Береги кисть смолоду is an allusion to the proverb Береги честь смолоду.

Гипербола involves using преувеличение as a rhetorical device or figure of speech, but should not be taken literally. It is used to evoke strong emotions or impressions. For example: Я говорил это тысячу раз or, looking at a large meal, saying that “нам еды на полгода хватит”.

On the other hand, литота is a form of преуменьшение that is always deliberate and with the intention of выразительность. For example: Лошадь величиной с кошку, жизнь человека — один миг.

Перифра́з refers to an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech, in that the information can have multiple meanings. For example: Люди в белых халатах to mean doctors or царь зверей to refer to a lion.

Most people who watch modern TV shows are familiar with сарказм, which is also quite common in literature. It can involve using a bitter statement or feigning indifference. For example: Если больной очень хочет жить, врачи бессильны (Faina Ranevskaya).

SRAS students on a tour of the Lenin State Library in Moscow, one of the world’s largest.

Художественный образ is vivid and descriptive language that is used to add depth to a literary work. Authors use imagery to appeal to human senses and deepen the reader’s understanding of the work. Imagery sometimes uses metaphors, and strives to engage all the reader’s senses.

Иро́ния is a contrast or inconsistency between what the reader expects from a situation and what actually happens. Sometimes similes or metaphors are used to state the opposite of the truth, for example: Ну ты храбрец! to refer to a coward, or умён-умён for an idiot.

Антитеза is comparing two things that are not related to each other in order to show their differences. For example: Кто был ничем, тот станет всем.



Аллитерация is repeating the same or similar sounds, usually at the beginning or in the middle of multiple words. Alliteration is used largely in поэзия, пословицы, поговорки , and скороговорки.

For example:

Выходила к ним горилла,
Им горилла говорила
Говорила им горилла,

(A gorilla went to them,
The gorilla told them,
The gorilla told them,
– K. Chukovsky, Barmalei

When analyzing поэзия, there are a few other things to consider in addition to литературные приёмы, for instance, there are various стихотворные размеры that a поэт can use: односложный, двусложный, трехсложный, пятисложный. Here are some of the самые распространенные meters:

1. Хорей: a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one:

Буря мглою небо кроет
Вихри снежные крутя

– A. Pushkin


2. Ямб: the opposite of a хорей, this consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable:

Мой дядя самых честных правил,
Когда не в шутку занемог,
Он уважать себя заставил
И лучше выдумать не мог.

– A. Pushkin


3. Анапест: two short syllables followed by a long one:

О, весна без конца и без краю –
Без конца и без краю мечта!
Узнаю тебя, жизнь! Принимаю!
И приветствую звоном щита!

– A. Blok


4. Амфибра́хий: a long syllable between two short syllables:

Не вeтер бушует над бором,
Не с гор побежали ручьи
Мороз-воевода дозором
Обходит владенья свои.

– N. Nekrasov


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About the author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life,, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.

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